The origin of pisco stems from the early Spanish settlers in the 16th Century and it was produced as an alternative to the pomace based brandy “orujo” from Spain with the first recorded mention of it in Peru being found in a will dating from 1613. While in Chile the earliest reference is 1871, so that appears to give the edge to Peru but of course it’s not as simple as that because at the beginning of the Spanish conquest there was no border and Chile & Peru were part of the same colony. However the Chilean defence is that because they occupied part of southern Peru in the late 1800′s that is why there was no reference. If you are to take production volume into consideration into account then Chile wins hands down as it produces 50 litres versus just 1.5m in Peru.
Relations between the countries have been strained in the past and the consequences of the “War of the Pacific” (1879-1884) are still a bone of contention for some people as both Peru & Bolivia ceded land to Chile’s more powerful military forces, with Bolivia losing its coastline. So it’s perhaps understandable that Peru are taking such a strong stance on this matter as they don’t want to lose out again to the southern neighbours. Even after the World Intellectual Property Organization recognised the validity of Chile’s manufacture of Pisco and offered to jointly promote the alcohol they were swiftly rebuffed by the Peruvians.
The ongoing battle for ownership of the Pisco name is actually a recurring theme throughout the world with Greece successfully claiming feta cheese, Parma and Bologna where Parma cheese has been made for over 600 years has also claimed the rights to exclusively label their products as being from Parma but this is not just about prestige as there are also the financial benefits that exclusivity bring. These disputes are not dissimilar to those involving software and intellectual property and are commonly known as “geographical indications” or”designations of origin” in legal terms.
Pisco is prepared quite differently in both countries with the Peruvian version being a pure distillate from young wine for a period of just 3 months and there is nothing else added to it whereas the Chilean Pisco is distilled from mature wine where the grapes have fermented in their entirety before distillation begins. Sometimes it will be matured in oak casks with infusions of different fruits which can give a yellowish colour, as opposed to the clear Pisco of Peru, and they have just 3 varietals, compared to 8 in Peruvian Pisco, and vitally in the Chilean Pisco they do not distill to proof and can on occasion add extra water to reduce high alcohol content. That’s the technical part of it explained, I hope!
Then there’s the way the drink is enjoyed. In Chile the preferred method of preparation is to simply sip it or to mix with cola to make the originally named “piscola” but of course that’s not to say Chileans don’t also enjoy the famed Peruvian method for a Pisco Sour which is typically prepared using simple syrup, a sprinkle of Angostura bitters and egg white. Some Chileans will even admit to being bigger fans of the Peruvian version but you can be sure they’re not exactly shouting it from the rooftops!
Only yesterday a Peruvian visited our offices, and we touched on the delicate subject of pisco. The Chilean pisco is really very good, he magnanimously commented, “como limpiaparabrisas” (as a car window cleaner)….And added two other facts that we need to check out: that the greatest importer of Peruvian pisco is Chile (true?), and that a couple of the top restaurants in Santiago are Peruvian and they make sure where their pisco comes from. Well, a quick check does confirm the leading Peruvian restaurant Astrid y Gaston is one of the top Santiago restaurants in Trip Advisor.
Well as in all such contested matters, the only solution is to decide for oneself, right? Luckily we have a range of trips to Chile and to Peru where you can start this essential process. And we can even design a trip to both countries for the perfect comparison. Salud!